in empty spaces where a scattered people once gathered
in uncertainty, unknowing, and unprepared how-in-the-world-did-we-get-here unsureness.
And this one is made in keeping each other company within the silence of our hearts as we go through the motions we can while mourning the ones we can’t.
That first Easter was made in darkness…
in stumbling together on the way to a tomb that contained everything they thought they’d been living for.
And this one is made in walking together-while-apart, virtual companions on a path we can’t even see yet.
That first Easter was made in grief…
in crushing sadness over what was lost and with no idea how anything could ever be the same again.
And this one is made in admitting that no, things are not the same…
but also in reminding each other that in these parallel Easter stories, we have the advantage.
We know already how this Story will end.
My friend says, “It’s the Lentiest Lent that ever lented.” I repeat her words in the kitchen and wonder aloud––what’s Easter if your cross is just as heavy when you wake up Sunday morning as it was on Friday afternoon?
My husband, still quick with a sermon title after all these years, reminds me: not all Easter Alleluias come easily. The first ones certainly didn’t. But Alleluia, anyway.
Christ isn’t in that tomb, or in any other one––
except as the One who never lets Death have the last word.
Where he is present isn’t in the stillness of defeat––
except to whisper, “This isn’t over yet.”
Some Easters are made of Alleluias borne on golden, soaring chords toward heaven, carried by the singing of children and the scent of lilies, effortless, effervescent.
This one is made of Alleluias murmured through tears, pressed out from between clenched teeth, spoken with a full knowledge of what we’ve lost but without knowing just how much more we’ve got to let go.
Some Alleluias are hard-fought.
Yes, it’s the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever lived. And when the first morning light begins to shift the sky from black toward grey this Easter, our penances won’t all dissolve
our sorrow won’t evaporate with the night
our losses won’t be magically restored as the sun rises.
He is still risen.
We are still His Body––fingers, eyes, ears––all still connected whether we feel it or not.
There’s a certain sameness to days right now that has me constantly checking the calendar or my phone or my watch to remind myself what day it is. I’ve been as much as two days off, even during the same day…the proverbial woman/mom/grad student who checks the calendar for the date and immediately forgets what day it is.
(If there’s not a proverb about that person, there should be.)
I’ve written so many words here about the ordinariness of my life and the beauty I see in it. Sometimes I have to look really hard into the corners to find that beauty, but I can always find it if I look hard enough. Lately, though, things seem to be spreading out into a shallow grey puddle…the kind of grey that reflects a grey sky and becomes even more grey because of it. The things that made Thursday, Thursday or Sunday, Sunday are no longer there. It all feels like the same day to me.
This isn’t necessarily alarming yet, although it could be if it goes on for too long. So I’m doing the things I know will help me keep moving forward. I’m going to bed on time. I’m getting up on time. I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours (which helps some with distinguishing the days, since I have to find the right pages). I’m upping my water intake. I’m taking a walk outside once a day, no matter the weather. I’m listening to lots of music. I’m trying to focus on what I have, on the people in front of me, instead of what I’ve lost and the people I can’t see right now.
The irony of becoming a stay-at-home online student of theology again after having moved across the country to study in person is probably worth its own blog post. In a short time, I’ve found a little community of kindred spirits at the School of Theology, lingering over lunch and having Big Conversations about Important Things, delighting in shared discovery and mutual growth and the thrill of accompanying each other as we brush up against the mysteries of the universe.
Now, my communicating with these same amazing people has collapsed to text-length phrases punctuated by emojis, and I can’t find the exact circular yellow facial expression I need to convey how I feel about it. After half a semester of feeling more like myself than I have in a long time (maybe ever), I’m back to typing out responses in boxes to online discussion posts at my kitchen table while my kids throw their opposing armies at each other in a RISK-related squabble over whether that die was a three or a six when it landed.
It could feel like a huge mistake. What was I thinking, moving everyone out here away from our families and support system, away from our community and our friends and “my” organ and the familiar mountains and running trails I loved? No, I couldn’t have predicted a pandemic. But what kind of responsible adult changes everything about her life to pursue a long-deferred dream over a thousand miles from home?
This one does, apparently.
But how can I complain about this? This is my kitchen table, and we have a window-filled kitchen to sit in. I’m still studying the thing that makes my heart beat faster. George is working from home, which he couldn’t have done before. This house even has a downstairs, so the fallout from the RISK-related conflict is more contained than it would have been in Virginia.
I’m not here because I made One Spectacularly Bad Decision. I’m here because we said “yes,” not one time or three times, but hundreds of little times that led us down this path.
During Lent, George and I have been reading a Psalm each day and using it for lectio divina, a contemplative practice of praying with the text by reading the words slowly and intentionally to see what emerges. Today, my Psalm was the twenty-third. I actually rolled my eyes. Blah, blah, blah – still waters, cup runneth over, we’ve heard all of this before.
The thing about the Psalms, though, is that they are a living conversation with the Divine. The Psalmist speaks to God, and God speaks back. And when I read those Psalms from my heart, I make their words my own, and God speaks back to me, too.
Today, the twenty-third Psalm is all about right paths for me.
Today, I’m choosing to see that all those little yeses of the last ten or twenty years that led to the bigger yeses of the last year and a half were not a mistake. God is leading me in right paths. He has brought us this far. He will not abandon us.
That’s the miracle of the Incarnation at work in my little life today. God entered the world––a world that was not less messed up than our own, a world full of suffering and struggle and boredom and hunger and injustice and sorrow. God showed up there in human skin––not to wave a magic wand and make all the problems go away, but to be therewith us in the middle of them.
This is the God we believe in––the One who occupies the same space we do just because He wants to be with us. The One who is here whether we choose to acknowledge that presence or not. Not one who is aloof, or judging our behavior, or standing to the side waiting to see what we’re going to do with this mess we’re in…but one who waded down into it on purpose to be where we are.
It’s like the opposite of social distancing, really.
So as we figure out how to be community for each other in this complicated and confusing time when we can’t sit around the same table and ponder the mysteries of the universe, I’m feeling thankful for this one Big Mystery made known in the angel’s message to Mary so long ago.
Things just smell better this time of year- have you noticed that? It isn’t just at home, either…the whole world smells like snow and cinnamon and tinsel. As we travel back and forth, traversing interstates and country roads to visit family, even gas station bathrooms are nicer, somehow. Some combination of music and lights and cookies and hot chocolate (with or without the special grownup additions) seems to put almost everyone in a good mood.
I suspect that a big part of the reason we love this time of year is because of its traditions. We are designed for shared ritual, and during the “holiday season,” our culture experiences that like no other time of year. I’ve written before about my friend’s family, who says that if you do something once and really like it, it’s a tradition (and if you do it twice, you’re stuck with it whether you like it or not). During the Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas season, there are so many special foods and activities that we do every year. Rituals and shared meals abound.
Choosing to live by the rhythm of the liturgical calendar gives us the opportunity to live with special traditions and foods all year long. There are feasts to be celebrated during each month of the year, not just in November and December. We get to expand our shared rituals and feasts to the rest of the months of the year, and there is always something to anticipate.
But how do we do that? How do we begin to explore all the feasts and traditions?
Haley and Daniel Stewart of Carrots for Michaelmas have created another resource to help us embrace the feasts of the liturgical year in a manageable way that is easy to implement. Their first book, Feast!, is a great introduction to observing the feasts and seasons of the church year. In their new book, More Feasts!, they expand this idea to include the whys and hows of celebrating the feasts of saints. The Stewarts write beautifully about how living liturgically can enrich both your spiritual and your family life. With 10 new delicious-looking (gluten-free) recipes, reflections and activities for families, More Feasts! makes me feel excited about the chance to create some new traditions with my family in the coming year.
I love that these books come from a home that is truly living out this rhythm in a creative, vibrant way. This is not a hypothetical guide. This is a real-life, tried and tested experience of one family who has found a way to make the rhythms of the church year an integral part of how they live out their faith as a domestic church.
You can get More Feasts! exclusively at Carrots for Michaelmas for $3.99 right now (plus an extra 25% off through December 15 with the code HAPPYFEAST). The original book, Feast!, is on sale for $4.99 during Advent (it’s usually $7.99).
Do I have to be Catholic? Aren’t these feast days a Catholic thing?
No way. The church year belongs to all Christians. The saints included in the book are saints in the Catholic understanding, but their stories are worth reading no matter your faith background. Haley does a wonderful job of explaining this in the book. And besides, everyone needs a good sushi recipe.
I’m so overwhelmed by all of this. How will I be able to do it all?
You won’t. Don’t try. Just pick one or two feasts that appeal to you and try them out. As you develop traditions, your celebrations will grow and maybe increase in number. The important thing is to do what works best for you and your family.
Is there a print copy of the book? I don’t have an e-reader.
The first volume, Feast!, is available here in print for $21.99. Right now, More Feasts! is in e-book form only, but it’s a pdf file. You can download it right to your computer. No e-reader is needed.
The Stewarts have generously offered a copy of the new e-book to one of my readers. If you’d like to win, tell me about your family’s favorite tradition (any tradition!) in the comment box below. I’ll choose one winner randomly on Saturday.
Fine print: the giveaway is open through 11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday, December 12.Winner will be chosen randomly by a drawing. This giveaway is open to all – no geographic restrictions, since we don’t have to mail anything!
Last night, we celebrated the baptism day of our three children.
We meant to do this last year, but the day was sandwiched between Father’s Day and my birthday, so it came and went without much notice.
The desire to do more to strengthen our family’s prayer life and to follow the seasons of the liturgical year can feel like a stumbling block. If we get too caught up in the details of the various days and feasts we’d like to celebrate, we can get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. The important thing about the cycle of the liturgical year (and about praying together as a family) is that it is a cycle. It repeats. We have chance after chance to try things out, see what works for us, and take notes for next year. Doing something to mark time and to notice the holy days that matter to our family is better than doing nothing, even if our celebrations end up being less than Pinterest-worthy.
This year, we decided a simple celebration was better than no celebration at all. Here’s what we did:
The children chose a special dinner.
Sam asked for cheeseburgers and tater tots (and achieved consensus with the Sisters), so that’s what we had. I made a large chocolate chip cookie for dessert and decorated it with a white icing cross and the children’s initials. The (store-bought) icing immediately ran everywhere. I did not photograph this for you, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The cookie was delicious- no one complained about the runny decorating job.
We pulled out their baptismal candles and lit them one at a time. George read the baptismal promises to each child. Each one answered the questions seriously- Sam with a quiet “yes,” Lucy with an emphatic “I do!” and Nora with a forceful nod of her head.
We found a small liturgy for this purpose here. It was fun to hear them gleefully renouncing Satan and all his empty promises. I enjoyed seeing how much they have changed since they were baptized…on that day, we answered the questions on their behalf, and now they can speak for themselves. I know they don’t fully understand everything now (do any of us, really?), but they recognized the phrases we say in the Creed each week during Mass. It felt good to see how their understanding has grown in just two short years…like we’re doing some things right. After the day we’d had around here, this was a wonderful moment for me as a parent.
We blessed each child with some of our Easter holy water by making a cross on his or her forehead.
We read a special prayer together as a family to close our celebration.
Blessed are you, Loving Father, Ruler of the Universe.
You have given us your Son,
And have made us temples of your Holy Spirit.
Fill our family with your light and peace.
Have mercy on all who suffer,
And bring us to everlasting joy with you, Father.
We bless your name forever and ever. Amen.
The prayer is a traditional family prayer and is included in our children’s Bible (we have this one, which contains some prayers, notes from the Catechism and other suggestions for incorporating liturgy at home). I hadn’t seen this prayer before. Lucy found it yesterday and liked the accompanying pictureso much that she asked me to read it to her several times. It fit perfectly with our little service of celebration.
Afterward, we looked at pictures from the day of the children’s baptism. I never managed to get any of those pictures printed. As we crowded around the screen of the iPad trying to see them, we decided we should make a photo book so the kids could look at them more often. They all enjoyed seeing the much younger versions of themselves (they change so quickly at this stage!), commenting on how Lucy had no hair and George still had some, and noticing the differences in the baptismal font, which our parish recently replaced with a new one.
A friend of mine has a family saying: “If you do something once and you like it, it’s a tradition. If you do it twice, it’s a tradition whether you like it or not.” Based on the giggles, smiles and warm feelings this evening, I think this particular tradition is one we’ll be intentionally keeping for a long time.
Do you celebrate baptismal days in your family? What traditions do you have for marking this occasion?
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So, Advent’s the new Christmas, right? I keep feeling like we have to get started early- we need to get a jump on shopping and decorating and baking and crafting so we can hurry up and wait for Jesus to be born in as unhurried a way as possible.
“Thanksgiving was late this year,” everyone keeps saying, and I hear from other friends who keep the church calendar at home that Advent has snuck up on them. One lovely friend (who shall remain anonymous for her own protection) has even been calling it “the A-word” and forbidding people to use it in polite conversation.
Don’t talk about it yet- we aren’t ready!
The whole “get ready for Advent” thing comes from a good place. We are making a real effort to recapture a season of preparation. We are trying to make space in our lives, hearts and homes so that we can welcome the newborn Christ when He comes. It’s a good thing.
I’m not sure, though, that the mad rush is ever a good thing.
The idea that there is a looming deadline (December 1st this year! That was yesterday! Heaven help us!) after which we must be prepared is not helping me. It makes my chest feel tight. It makes me feel like going for a really long run or adding something more festive than flavored creamer to my coffee.
I need to remember that I am the one responsible for the climate in my home. I would like to cultivate a sense of peace during this season, of quiet wonder, of prayerful expectation. If I’m running around like a madwoman trying to find my candle snuffer so we can light the wreath (or, rather, so we can put it out with due reverence after it has been lit) and barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their Advent chains so we can hang those suckers up and start counting down until Christmas, how can I possibly be creating a climate of prayerful anything?
I think some deep breaths might help. And maybe I will go for that long run, too.
Where we are is just where we are. Thankfully, God knows where that is and is perfectly capable of finding us and meeting us there. Advent is a season of preparation…a whole season to get ready! It is nice to have some things in order beforehand, but scrambling around in a dither to make everything ready before Advent even starts isn’t really good for anyone.
How about you? Are you feeling rushed this year? Are you overwhelmed with the preparations for the season of preparation? Or are you propped up with peace in your heart and all your Christmas cards ready to send out?
Even though we aren’t ready for Christmas yet, we don’t need to be. I’m feeling some peace knowing that a simple, deliberate Advent will work for our family this year. Setting a gentle pace now means we will be able to sustain it. And by the time Christmas arrives, we will be ready.
And so will you…no matter how unprepared you feel today.
I’ll be rounding up some of my favorite Advent resources here and on Facebook in the coming days and weeks, so you can check back if you need inspiration for your own preparations. You’re warmly welcomed to join me in listening to our Advent playlist to help cultivate that sense of calm (and to avoid the Holly Jolly Sounds of Lite Ninety-Eight Point Whatever, if that kind of thing gets on your nerves).
Blessings during this first week of Advent. May you find exactly what you need to help you prepare your heart and your home for the coming Light of Christ.
*This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and end up buying something, your purchase will help support Surviving Our Blessings. If you like that idea, there’s also an ad in the sidebar that you can click through when you purchase from Amazon. This blog will receive a tiny percentage of any purchases you make. Thanks for your support!*
If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year… …if you’re curious about the church calendar and how it works… …if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there… …if you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter…
I have one copy of Feast! – a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas– to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn’t end there, though. They’ve written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y’all. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)
The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren’t photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there’s an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What’s not to love?
Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she’s fantastic. Like her book.
My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.
The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own day…it’s so much fun! At least, it is if you don’t do it like I did last year.)
To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you’d like to start, if you haven’t done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I’ll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.
Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons.
I hope you win! 🙂
Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we’re doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell me…how are you feeling about December’s quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?
St. Brigid was a 5th century nun who founded the monastery at Kildare in Ireland. Born to a mother who was a slave in a Druid household, she was named for the Celtic goddess of fire and is the patron of the hearth and the domestic arts. (She is also the patron of County Kildare, for obvious reasons.) Many of the stories about her are about her bringing warmth and light, so it is fitting that February 1st is her feast day…the first day of spring in the old Celtic calendar.
When we visited Ireland, George and I picked up a St. Brigid’s cross to bring back with us for our Christmas tree. It has been our tradition to find Christmas ornaments everywhere we travel and reminisce about our trips as we decorate the tree each year. I learned today that many people in Ireland make St. Brigid’s crosses on her feast day and place them near the hearth or stove (or sometimes, on the front door of the house).
Since we had already put away our St. Brigid’s cross with the other ornaments (are you impressed that our tree and ornaments are put away?), SuperSam and I decided to make our own St. Brigid’s cross to celebrate her feast today. They are traditionally made from straw or reeds. We followed this great tutorial from Catholic Icing and made ours from pipe cleaners. It was very kid-friendly, even for a preschool-aged boy with a short attention span for such things. (He pretended the pipe cleaners were eating each other, complete with “nom nom nom” sound effects.) It only took us about 20 minutes, and we ended up with two very colorful crosses to show for our efforts.
The way this week has gone, I feel in serious need of a patron of the domestic arts, so I put my St. Brigid’s cross in the kitchen window. At the very least, the bright colors will perk me up first thing in the morning before the day gets going while I’m waiting on the coffee to finish brewing.
For another make-your-own-St. Brigid’s cross tutorial, try here. And check out Sarah’s post on how her family celebrated St. Brigid’s Day at two Os plus more. For a devotional resource on the saints (neither strictly Catholic nor strictly biographical, but with some ideas for prayer practices included), try Tom Cowan’s The Way of the Saints: Prayers, Practices, and Meditations. It’s not comprehensive, by far, but he writes about ways to honor some of the saints and apply their lessons in daily life. We enjoy having it as one resource in our library. (Yes, that is an Amazon affiliate link back there, just to be clear.)